Al Qaeda’s military organizational structure was detailed in one the 113 documents taken from Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound and released by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence last week.
The document outlines al Qaeda’s use of the “Chief of Staff Committee,” which it described as “the group of officers and personnel qualified to work with a military commander leader in leading the military component company that is under his command in peace and in war.” The existence of these committees, which support military commands and units, is further evidence that al Qaeda operates as an organized insurgency, and not just as a terrorist group.
US intelligence officials who discussed the document with The Long War Journal on condition of anonymity said that al Qaeda has implemented the Chief of Staff Committee at multiple levels. Evidence of the existence of this command staff is seen in what al Qaeda referred to in the document as the “Supreme Authority,” or the central command, in al Qaeda branches in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Syria, Somalia, North Africa, and Yemen, and in individual military components, or what many of Osama bin Laden’s documents describe as “companies,” “battalions,” and “brigades.”
Another key organizational position, the “general manager,” who serves as the chief of staff for al Qaeda’s leader, has been disclosed in one of Osama bin Laden’s documents that was previously released. It is likely that other important organizational positions are described in the massive cache of bin Laden documents that have yet to be released.
According to the document, the Chief of Staff Committee’s “tasks” are “assisting the leader in preparing the component company and leading and administering it through:”
“1. Collecting information;”
“2. Preparing the component company and transferring/disseminating it;”
“3. Supervising its implementation;”
“4. Organizing the work of different services that assist the combatant component company.”
The committee has five “wings,” which which are tasked to deal with administration, intelligence, operations and training, logistics, and morale. These wings, which are strikingly similar to the organization of Western military units, operate “in war and in peace,” are described as:
“The First Wing: The Organization and Administration Wing, or the Personnel Wing.”
“The Second Wing: Reconnaissance and Military Intelligence Wing.”
“Third Wing: The Operations Wing.”
“The Fourth Wing: The Provisions and Supply Wing.”
“A Fifth Wing… The Morale Affairs Wing.”
The committee has a “Chief of Staff” who “is a true aide to the commander leader, and he follows up on the various activities of the component company,” according to the document.
The document outlined the additional responsibilities of the military chief of staff at the “supreme authority level.” There are several “helpers” who are given the title “Assistant Chief of Staff.”
“He enjoys many authorities’ benefits, and he has – on the supreme authority level – a number of helpers who have the title ‘Assistant Chief of Staff,'” according to the document. “In the Supreme Authority, there is an office that helps the commander leader, and it includes a group of officers, including the associates. The task of this office is facilitating the works of the commander leader and communicating with the Supreme Authority leader or the non-military authorities.”
This explains how al Qaeda has been able to replace military leaders and their subordinates who are killed in drone strikes or other operations.
Al Qaeda has maintained what the US State Department has described as a “deep bench” of capable leaders who can step in when their superiors are taken off of the battlefield. The creation of the Chief of Staff Committee is one way al Qaeda has ensured that it can adapt to US counterterrorism operations designed to kill key leaders and operatives.